Puppeteers at Baan Silapin share Ramayana tales — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Baan Silapin Artist's Home is one of Bangkok's great hidden gems. The house is a community hangout, serving up some great food and also selling artwork ranging from photos to paintings to books and artsy handicrafts. However, the biggest draw here is the local puppet show.
Most visitors don't get over to the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, although an intrepid few do hire longtail boats and head up some of the smaller canals to explore. These same boats tend to zip right by the Klong Bang Luang Market, which is a floating market of sorts (more like a canal-side market with some row-up vendors) that has become a popular excursion for Bangkokians looking to remember the slow life on weekends.
Thai folklore puppetry comes to life at Baan Silapin — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Along the rickety wooden canal walkway can be found some charming old wooden homes, one of which houses the Baan Silapin Artist's Home. The community here has gotten together to keep its young people away from trouble and keep the tradition of local performing arts alive by teaching Thai puppetry and getting the young folks to become performers and pass on the lineage.
Every afternoon at 2 p.m., there are traditional handcrafted puppet shows, with three puppeteers pulling the strings to control lifelike marionette puppets, enacting Thai folktales and scenes from the Ramayana.
The puppeteers each control one marionette-style puppet; all of the performers dressed in black with black masks so as not to draw attention to themselves. The puppeteers quickly blend into the background, as the puppets come to life. The audience thoroughly gets into the performances, which include plenty of crowd interaction, bawdry jokes and a good time to be had for all.
While the performances are in Thai, the emcee of the event usually spots the few foreigners that are in attendance and does some translating as well as including them in the fun.
An audience enjoys the traditional theatre — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
While the shows are put on for free and entry to the Artist's House is free as well, donations are encouraged. Most visitors seem more than happy to oblige.
With the spate of surrounding condos and shopping malls encroaching the traditional areas of Bangkok more and more each day, it is a rare treat to come across simple ways to have fun that try to keep old culture alive as well.
Audience participation at Baan Silapin — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Getting to Baan Silapin Artist's Home used to be a real chore, but the extension of the BTS Skytrain has changed all that. You can now take the train all the way across Thonburi to its final stop at Bang Wa, and either walk 20 minutes down Phetkasem Soi 28 to the canal or else grab a taxi from the station.
Tell the drivers you are going to either Baan Silapin, talat nam Klong Bang Luang (the canal market) or Wat Kuhasawan (the main temple right by the canal); they ought to know at least one of these, and locals can help with the rest.
Some days there are no performances, as the puppeteers get hired out. So call in advance to make sure there's a show on the day of your planned visit.